I took these photographs as part of a project to do with ideas of the ‘North.’ When I think of North it’s not something I can immediately put my finger on. Its concept is one which is generally indistinct and perhaps unfamiliar to the majority of people on earth. The North is far more untouched than the South, with its naturally occurring whiteness and extreme landscapes. Without wanting to use an age-old phrase, it is ‘like another world’. Years ago when I visited the Arctic Circle that same phrase was probably one of my first thoughts. That and how incredibly cold it was.
North can encompass all manner of things; it does not merely refer to a point on a map of the earth. There are core elements which highlight the impression that one receives of North, such as ice, snow, mountains and glaciers, but there is also a sense of ambiguity which I hope to convey in my photographs.
In the winter of 2009, I took advantage of the abnormally cold days and took my camera on long family walks in the countryside. The photos I came back with were nothing short of intriguing, with images of shapes in ice, frozen puddles and broken fragments of frost. Many of them were indistinct in their form, almost to the point of being indescribable because the new layer of intricacy added by the ice. Andy Goldsworthy describes the North Pole as having ‘no distinctive feature… there is no land – only snow and ice.’ The North is in no way clear-cut and so I decided to show differing aspects that touch upon North. Through photography I can create a literal yet semblant viewpoint, and I purposely created the pictures as square images to give them some degree of uniformity.
At a 2009 exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, London called ‘Where Three Dreams Cross: 150 Years of Photography from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh’, Dayanita Singh’s work was the most striking to me. Her long, folded rows of black and white photographs drew you into her subjects so you had to peer much more closely to really see them—markedly different to the huge colour photographs on the surrounding walls.
Other artists such as Katie Paterson, Vija Celmins and Olafur Eliasson inspired me to attempt to represent North in some way, and in particular its light. The light in the North seems to have a different quality, as it is both closer and further away from the sun. Felix Hess, a physicist turned artist, created his own ‘Icelamp’ by freezing a bicycle light bulb in a glass of water. He recalls that ‘the small block of ice began to glow with a vibrating orange light from within, flaring up to a brilliant white or fading out.’ The fact that my photos are without colour I feel amplifies this idea of light and uncertainty all the more, which helps to encapsulate the way in which North ‘is more of a feeling than a place.’
Images – Natasha Gartside